Is an interlocutory judgment the end of the road? - DAC Beachcroft

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Is an interlocutory judgment the end of the road?

Published On: 19 February 2016

The question of whether a judgment for damages to be assessed should allow a Defendant to dispute the cause of a compensatable condition was considered by the High Court in the recent judgment of Atkins v Co-Operative Group handed down on 27 January 2016.

Mr Justice Supperstone was required to consider this issue in relation to a claim for asbestos-related disease, the Claimant asserting that he had developed asbestosis and diffuse pleural thickening.  As no defence on breach of duty was available, the Defendant conceded that judgment should be entered at a telephone Case Management Conference, albeit the concession was intended to leave medical causation in issue which it did not due to an oversight by Counsel.

Following the hearing, the Defendant, which was granted permission to rely upon expert medical evidence, obtained a report from a cardiothoracic radiologist whose interpretation of x-rays and CT scans was that the Claimant had developed pleural plaques but had not developed either asbestosis or diffuse pleural thickening.

The Defendant was not entitled to dispute causation due to the nature of the judgment and therefore was not able to question whether the Claimant had developed asbestosis or pleural thickening.  However, if the judgment was to remain in place, the experts would have been required to give evidence on the basis of a false assumption and the Claimant would have been compensated for conditions he had not developed.

In an appeal against the order made at the Case Management Conference, the Defendant did not seek to set aside the judgment in its entirety, but to vary it to allow causation to remain in dispute.

Mr Justice Supperstone concluded that the cardiothoracic radiologist's report could not reasonably have been obtained before the Case Management Conference and accepted that it would be inappropriate for the claim to proceed on the basis of a false assumption.  He therefore allowed the appeal, amending the judgment to one for the Claimant on breach of duty, with the issues of causation and quantum to be assessed.

This case provides a useful reminder that where there are issues on medical causation or there is merit in keeping causation in dispute, judgment should be entered on breach of duty only with causation and quantum to be assessed.  Care should also be taken on the wording of pre- issue admissions.